Homily preached the 5th Sunday in Lent, year B, with the St. Francis House community. Readings assigned to the day were these: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33.
I listen to a lot of music. Podcasts, too, but mostly music. I use headphones throughout the day when I’m in coffee shops or trying to keep a quiet and welcoming space here for others. Sometimes, when I’m alone with my headphones, I’ll give myself the freedom to, well, it’s not quite right to call it dancing so much as moving to the groove without inhibitions. Exaggerated foot stomps at one of the standing tables turned desktop in the lounge. Head bobs of the soul. You know the stuff.
But then, inevitably, in the midst of an especially compelling groove, the phone will ring and the headphones come off. I come out of my musical cocoon and enter the real world of ordinary silences and socially constrained, limited-range-of-motion, self-conscious movements. Sometimes the disconnect is jarring. I notice all the people passing on the sidewalk, through the window, totally oblivious to the raging party just a moment ago blaring between my ears - now reduced to a distant whirring buzz from the table top in front of me.
It’s a strange thing when, in a given moment, you realize you are moving, connecting, grooving to a song that no one else can hear.
Dancing to the groove that no one else can hear has had me thinking a lot about Philip this week. Jesus and his friends are at a festival, and some Greeks come to Philip with an incredible request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Yeah, I think. Hey Greeks, get in line. Don’t we all! Don’t we all want to see. It’s the prayer of the saints - to, at the last, behold the face of Christ. What, then, is notable or new or even mildly interesting about the Greeks’ request of Philip?
Well, for one, the honesty. Simple. Direct. Aware of their own desire. Speaking their wish, opening their longing to public scrutiny. I mean, I suppose they could be saying it differently than I imagine. Maybe they aren’t talking openly, soul-baringly to Philip. Maybe they are talking like criminal detectives with a case to solve, stating to Philip, matter-of-factly: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
But I’ve never heard it that way.
Always with a longing. A childlike eagerness. An innocence. The kind that takes lifting your eyebrows to express.
Which leads me to the second thing that’s notable about the Greeks’ request: the great mystery as to why they think Philip can help.
Lots of possibilities, most of them speculative. Maybe the disciples all wore the same t-shirt. You know, something incredibly catchy that said something witty like, “I’m with him!” or “Security.” Maybe Philip is wearing the shirt and he just happens to be closest. Maybe, because Philip is from Bethsaida, they think he speaks Greek. Maybe he does. Or maybe that’s why he goes to get Andrew - he’s embarrassed that he doesn’t. The language possibility seems reasonable, but there would need to be additional probable cause, I would think, to approach Philip - some reason to suspect that Philip knew the guy they wanted to know. You don’t go around Rome asking locals to connect you to the Pope just because they appear to have a basic working knowledge of Latin.
Haven’t you ever wondered: how did Philip’s life physically indicate, or otherwise communicate, his relationship with Jesus?
The Greeks had heard of Jesus, but presumably had never heard Jesus. However, when they saw Philip, they recognized the possibility of hearing the one they had heard of.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
And it’s just then, in their notice of him, that Philip realizes he is moving, connecting, and grooving to a song that no one else can hear.
Maybe you can relate to Philip. Maybe your minding-your-own-business living out of the life of faith has, from time to time, unexpectedly attracts the interest of others. “What are you doing? What music are you dancing to?” they ask. Perhaps a curious bus passenger catches you reading a comically large Bible edition on your way home from work. Maybe your friends ask you why you are giving up some of your free time to meet with the others to pray. Maybe your family wonders out loud why you aren’t pursuing the most lucrative of the job possibilities your career track affords you, but have instead begun exploring other ways to offer your skills for the least of the sisters and brothers around you.
Then again, maybe you don’t relate to Philip at all. Maybe you’ve gotten good at suppressing the groove the music would otherwise inspire in you, what with all the unwanted attention that dancing can bring. After all, you aren’t putting on a show for anyone. You are trying to live your life for God! Maybe you want to get closer to hear Jesus yourself - the song that is Christ! - such that you find the continual tapping of others on your shoulder incredibly irritating. You’re still looking yourself and trying to pay attention - you want to see Jesus - and you have a hard enough time keeping quiet your pride without these new strangers thinking you’re special for being there. You stand still, hear the music, but don’t dare dance. And yet, even your stillness betrays you. The others see you, out there in the world, straining your ears in the silence and somehow they know - they detect - your stillness comes from God. They see you listening to the song.
And sometimes it’s joyful, right? The music, the dancing. And sometimes the music is sad, even soulful. Sometimes it’s tears and a head on your shoulder. Sometimes its learning to dance the cry of God’s justice out loud for the pain of your sister.
The song of Christ is always playing.
We’re about to dance through the heart of the song, in case the words or melody have grown fuzzy in your mind - or whatever part of us it is that carries our songs. Palm Sunday through Easter. One week from today. The Savior’s crucifixion. The self-emptying of God. And Thursday’s supper with his friends, the subsequent betrayal - this will be the song. Good Friday and its total darkness, death - every bit, will be the song. And from the depths of a silence so real it makes you wonder if the song isn’t, in fact, over, the music will begin the slow crescendo no one thought was possible through the Vigil fire that breaks the darkness and the Easter stanzas, in their glory.
The point, the good word, today is not that the life of faith beat would or should cause you to tap dance through life every day - or ever - but that the new life Christ inspires in you - however that moves you - already is coming out through you - in joy, yes, equally in sadness, in the heart broken after God’s own, in speaking up for the plight of the forgotten and downtrodden - either way, joy or sorrow, the dancing, the listening - for you, as with Philip - it erases the hope of the possibility for anonymity. Because the Greeks notice. Though they don’t hear the music, they see that, like Philip, you are dancing.
Oh, to be Philip. Did you know you are Philip? That your life physically indicates, somehow otherwise communicates, your relationship with Jesus? What a challenge. What a joy. It’s a strange, wild thing when, in a given moment, you realize you are moving, connecting, grooving to a song that no one else can hear.
Sometimes, when Annie catches me dancing, I take one ear bud out and share the song with her. My first instinct is to get her her own set of earphones and her own music device, but that would be impractical. Of course, I have another option, one I sometimes choose: I can pull out the plug that keeps the music hidden from others. It would be rude to do this in certain settings, like libraries, but - when the Greeks are on your shoulder - it is a possibility. Pulling the plug from the iPhone, the room fills with sound. The music finds the ears of everyone in the room. And this is, after all, the only real way to share the song. Together, I mean. Apart from a youtube link sent days later, via text. The shared headset solution comes close, but usually one or the other has to sacrifice the bass line that way, and that's too great a loss for good music. The only real way to share the song, completely, is to unplug the headphones from the phone. Not always. But sometimes. You know, when the Greeks come and find you, and say,
“Hey! You! I see you dancing.
"Friend, would you help me?
"I want to see Jesus.”